In a statement issued on Thursday morning by William Easton, the managing director of Facebook Australia and New Zealand, the company announced it “will restrict publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content.”
This move comes in response to Australia’s proposed media bargaining law which seeks to force Facebook and Google to share revenue generated from news content with the relevant publishers.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission issued a 600+ page “Digital Platforms Inquiry” report in June 2019. The report “covers all aspects of the online media industry, and concerns relating to data-sharing, misinformation, and consumer understanding of how digital platforms operate.”
Last April, after reviewing the ACCC’s conclusions, Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced the government instructed the organization “to develop a mandatory code to address commercial arrangements between digital platforms and news media businesses. Among the elements the code will cover include the sharing of data, ranking and display of news content and the monetization and the sharing of revenue generated from news.”
Frydenberg noted the ACCC concluded that “Facebook and Google have each become unavoidable trading partners for Australian news media businesses in reaching audiences online, resulting in an imbalance in bargaining power.”
This situation was “exacerbated by a sharp decline in advertising revenue driven by coronavirus.” He added, “This, along with inaction from the digital giants in working to provide a more adequate process of compensation for publishers, has prompted the Government to act.”
Last January, CBS London reported that Google had threatened to shut down in Australia if this legislation passed.
However, earlier this week, according to a report in Social Media Today, “Google announced new deals with two of Australia’s biggest news publishers – Seven West Media and Nine – which will see the search giant pay these publishers around $30 million each for use of their content within Google’s news products. Those deals will ensure that Google can continue to operate under the new media bargaining provisions, but without such agreements, Google too was threatening to pull out of the Australian market entirely.”
“The Google deals have been welcomed by the Australian Government, but Facebook, the only other company specified in the reforms, has opted not to adhere to the new rules.”
Not especially eager to hand over what it sees as “their revenue” or to set a precedent as far as other countries go, Facebook is digging in its heels.
As Easton explained in his statement, “The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content. It has left us facing a stark choice: attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia. With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter.”
As to why Google has already agreed to several deals and is currently engaged in negotiations with other publishers, Easton said, “The answer is because our platforms have fundamentally different relationships with news.”
MSN spoke to Peter Lewis, director of the Australia Institute’s Center for Responsible Technology. Lewis believes that Facebook’s refusal to bargain “will make it a weaker social network.”
Moreover, he said, “Facebook actions mean the company’s failures in privacy, disinformation, and data protection will require a bigger push for stronger government regulation. Without fact-based news to anchor it, Facebook will become little more than cute cats and conspiracy theories.”
There appears to be growing international backlash against the power of Big Tech.
In addition to capitalizing on their monopoly status, their ability to control what information consumers are allowed to see cannot be overstated. Although the owners and leaders of these companies have never been elected to public office, they have arguably become more powerful than the U.S. government.
The case can be made that the Silicon Valley giants greatly influenced the outcome of the presidential election. This goes well beyond the companies’ (and their employees) substantial contributions to Democratic campaigns. I am referring to their ability to suppress content unfavorable to their preferred candidates and to inflate (and distort) negative coverage of those they oppose.
These companies have been allowed to amass limitless power and wealth and they must be stopped. It’s reassuring that Australia is taking the fight to Big Tech and I hope to see other countries follow.
Not only do the tech giants pose a threat to America, their unrivaled power endangers the entire world.